Have you “PRIMED” Your First Responders?

By Grant Coffey

 

Regardless of your occupational specialty – environmental professional, facility safety expert, military or first responder – YOU’VE BEEN THERE.  Yeah, you’ve been at that incident where the hair stood up on the back of your neck.  The one where you thanked fate it was just a “close call” and nothing more.  What are you doing within your organization to learn from these incidents?  How are you equipping your personnel with critical tools to respond more effectively and safely?  More critically, what training are you giving them to utilize the most important tool –their BRAIN?

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) emergencies can be huge, overwhelming, complicated and full of unknowns.  Since we can’t have a specific SOP for every event, it’s common for the responder to regress under stress.  In many cases, that means retreating from what we know best.  Often, this yields disorganized, unsuccessful outcomes.  Same bad habits –same failed results.  Experience is critical, but it must adapt to tested street truths.

It is critical that we not only learn from our past incidents, but from each other. FLIR Systems recently introduced FLIR PRIMED – a one-stop resource for response professionals.  FLIR PRIMED strives to deliver informative and useable information in the form of a video-series that includes techniques, tools, and checklists based on best practices.  What does PRIMED stand for?

  • Prepare – Much of the battle is fought before you arrive on the scene of an emergency. Are you training your personnel for success? Use tested truth and then practice, review, modify and do it again…until it becomes a HABIT.
  • Recognize –All events have certain patterns. Early recognition of the “Big Picture” is acritical step. Utilizing available systems and tools helps us to avoid command “vapor lock” or overload confusion.
  • Input –Some decisions can be made initially, but the use of field checklists can assist in the orderly and thorough analysis of available on-scene “Cues and Clues.” You might not be able to identify a specific threat, but thegoal should be tosee it within a family of possibilities and rule out what it’s not.  I call the later “RIO” orRule it Out.
  • Monitor – Monitors are often used as presumptive tools. They should be seen as part of the total picture. They are important, but your brain is the best tool.
  • Experience –Experience is a double-edged sword. If it’s not nurtured and updated by improved response effectiveness, it can reinforce bad habits that lock us into a pattern of mistakes. Decision –Successful decision-making requires good information and competent use of available tools and equipment.  But make no mistake; decisions are ultimately made by humans -not equipment or procedures.

A CBRNE event can overwhelm the response equation.  Although the chemistry and physics of such events are relatively unchanging and predictable, the human aspect isn’t.  However, predictable patterns or outcomes still exist in emergencies.  If we couple this with a keen sense of our personnel, we can utilize those markers to improve response effectiveness.  Here are some “next step” ideas you can implement to improve your safety and effectiveness during a Hazmat or CBRNE response:

  • Instill a “Learning Attitude” with those personnel likely be the first to respond. Make it a daily event.  Learn tips from others or through resources like FLIR PRIMED.
  • Utilize your Hazmat Technicians to develop and deliver lessons, strengthening the bond of trust between your experts and the first responders. Because CBRNE events are atypical and infrequent, training must take place more often.  It should also highlight the mastery of concepts like, “turn it on and put it on.”  Personal Radiation Detection (PRD) equipment is vital at a rad scene.  Equip your first responders with good decision-making tools and education.
  • Integrate with allied agencies NOW, not later. Effective coordination between multiple agencies at CBRNE incidents is critical, but often overlooked and can be the Achilles heel.
  • Assemble your own field gu ides and checklists. These tools can help the IC avoid overload and assist them with important decision points. Don’t have any?  Start with some FLIR PRIMED downloads and modify them as needed.
  • Keep it simple! Use easily-remembered mantras like: “The 3 Cs” –Chemical, Container, Context. If you don’t, they won’t use them when pressured.  The threat is there.  Good tools are available.  One of them is FLIR PRIMED.  The video series delivers cutting-edge education and decision skills you can use right now.  Each episode concludes with a downloadable field guide or checklist.  Check it out today a flir.com/primed.

 

About the Author

Grant Coffey is a retired Portland Fire & Rescue Hazmat Team Coordinator, College Fire Science Instructor, and  CBRNE expert of nearly 40 years. He trains Fire, Police, Military and industry Hazmat Responders. He has NFPA certifications for Radiation Specialist and is a State of Oregon Radiation Safety Officer. He is also a Hazmat Specialist and Incident Safety officer and has experience in Emergency Manage ment and various other CBRNE Hazmat disciplines.